Part 2 of Sacrificial Lions

The below post is the second part of this article. It starts by examining benefits enjoyed by programs advancing deep into the NCAA Tourney:

Silver linings

Schools that advance in the NCAA tournament do tend to become richer. George Mason University, a public school of more than 30,000 students based in Fairfax County, Virginia, had never won a tournament game before 2006.

But that March, it broke into the Final Four — and into the black. The school’s fundraising rose from $19.6 million to $23.5 million, and George Mason merchandise led bookstore sales to $800,000 in March 2006 alone. (Sales the previous year totaled $625,000.) A study cited in Street and Smith’s SportsBusiness Journal estimates that print, internet, and game coverage — twenty-three hours of national television broadcast exposure — was converted into $677,474,659 worth of media exposure for George Mason.

UAPB didn’t go as deep into the tournament as George Mason, doesn’t have the same-sized network (it has more than 3,800 students and 1,400 paying members of its national alumni association), and is in a far poorer part of the country. (Devonshire Associates, Ltd. and Scan/U.S., Inc. estimated Pine Bluff’s 2009 median household income as $31,356.The U.S. Census Bureau pegged that stat in Fairfax County, Virginia, as $107,075 circa 2008.) Partly because vendors didn’t have time to market Golden Lion gear at tournament sites, there was “very little effect” in UAPB merchandise sales following the NCAAs, says John Kuykendall, UAPB’s director of alumni affairs and government relations.

The school didn’t see an influx of donations in the months after the tournament, either.
Margaret Martin-Hall, director of UABP’s office of university relations and development, says annual contributions have held steady between $1.7 million and $1.8 million for the last three or four years. However, she adds, she was pleased that donations didn’t decrease considering the recession. “Our money comes in thousands and hundreds, and some other places they come in millions,” Davis says. “Our people give what they are able to give.”

Still, the basketball program has seen tangible benefits. The school’s NCAA tournament ticket sales totaled $3,075, interim athletic director Willie Fulton writes in an e-mail. The conference distributed about $99,745 to UAPB as its cut of TV revenue, making the NCAA Tournament, and winning the SWAC championship. In the fall, a group of some 120 UAPB lettermen raised $10,000 for new equipment — including free weights, two stair steppers, and stationary bikes. Other amenities for the basketball team have included a new scoreboard and new practice gear. The tournament appearance also helps lure recruits.

Daniel Broughton didn’t have to go far. Before last spring, the Pine Bluff native, one of the team’s four freshmen, was considering his hometown school, the University of Central Arkansas, Southeastern Missouri, Drake University, and Murray State. Watching UAPB’s
first game of March Madness with fellow recruit Marcel Mosley of Marion turned him into a Golden Lion. “As they played Winthrop, me and Marcel were on the phone talking to each other and we were like ‘Well, we could both be going to that school’ … so we ended up signing.” Broughton says that 61-44 victory helped convince Keith Ross, his Watson Chapel High School
teammate, to sign with UAPB, too.

Grades

UAPB’s men’s basketball team had a twenty-nine percent graduation rate in 2009, according to NCAA records. That rate includes student-athletes who complete degree programs and receive diplomas within six years of enrollment as well as those who transfer to another school or turn professional while in good academic standing. That statistic was released nine days after UAPB’s loss to Duke in an Arkansas Democrat-Gazette article which also highlighted UAPB’s failure to reach an academic progress rate of 925. That standard calculates a team’s eligibility based on players returning and maintaining good academic standing. UAPB scored 907, and failure to meet 925 for two consecutive years could result in a lost scholarship. After three years, the school may be banned from preseason and postseason play.

Four of last year’s six seniors are still enrolled as students and on track to graduate in May, Fulton says. The other two are pursuing pro basketball overseas, says Calvin, a business finance major who also has a part-time job as a team tutor. He says the players are required to attend a study hall two hours daily Sunday through Wednesday, and that coaches are diligent with popping in to check on them. The coaches also check the players’ grades and class attendance. Ivory says he stresses education to his players — “We’re students first, then athletes” — and tries to schedule guarantee games near weekends or over holiday breaks to minimize missed class time. When missing class is unavoidable, the players get their assignments online and do them on the road. Broughton says that distance is “tough to deal with sometimes” but players who don’t have computers on the road can use one of the three or four laptops assigned to the team.

Davis says the issue extends far beyond only the predominately black male student-athletes at his school. Across Arkansas colleges,
graduation rates for black males are low relative to most other demographics. One reason is that many are underprepared in K–12 and have to take at least one remedial course in college, he said. Money matters, too. “School is expensive, and if you come from a family where the average [income] is less than $30,000 and you’re talking about ending your college career with that indebtedness, then chances are you’re not gonna be able to make it” to graduation.

Memories still fresh

When student-coach Terrance Calvin walks into the K.L. Johnson Sr. Health, Physical Education and Recreation Complex on his way to help the latest crop of Golden Lions, he sometimes pauses at the glass display in its main foyer.

No dust covers the trophies in in front of him.
There hangs newsprint without yellow. And not a fray in the net cut from a goal in Shreveport, Louisiana, site of the SWAC Championship. Almost none of it dates past March 2010. He lets his eyes wander over the the letters of
congratulations, to the picture of Governor Mike Beebe hosting him and his teammates at the state Capitol.

“It feels good every time I see it,” he says. “I stand there and stop for a second and feel like all the memories and everything comes right back.” Then he and the Lions hit the court, soon to hit the road again, a team of Davids in a world designed to favor Goliaths.

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